NFL Scouting Combine: 6 players the Chicago Bears need to learn more about

NFL invited 321 total players to NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis

UCLA defensive lineman Laiatu Latu runs a play during the first half against Coastal Carolina Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Pasadena, Calif.

The NFL officially invited a total of 321 players to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine later this month in Indianapolis.

The combine begins Feb. 26 and runs through March 4. Players will work out in front of scouts, speak with members of the media and meet with countless teams for interviews and medical evaluations.

The interview time and medical evaluations might be the most valuable part of the entire process for teams. Every team has the chance to meet with whichever players it wants from the list of 321 participants. There are always stories of weird questions that coaches ask or games they might play with players to see how their minds work.

Teams have their best opportunity to be hands-on with players and have a chance to examine past injuries that might be a long-term concern. Every year, there are several players who slide down the draft board because of injury concerns. The combine is when teams make those decisions.

From that list of 321 players, here are six players whom the Bears need to get to know at the combine.

Caleb Williams, QB, USC

USC quarterback Caleb Williams warms up for the team's game against UCLA, Nov. 18, 2023, in Los Angeles.

OK, this one is probably obvious. The Bears, with the No. 1 overall draft pick, hold all the cards. The combine is their first opportunity to get to know USC star quarterback Caleb Williams. If the Bears draft a quarterback with the top pick, Williams is the odds-on favorite.

Wild rumors and questions surrounding Williams’ makeup have swirled, particularly his desire to play in Chicago. The combine will be a chance to clear the air. If Bears general manager Ryan Poles is serious about potentially selecting Williams, he will almost certainly get together with him for a longer meeting sometime between the combine and April’s draft. Relationships are generally built over dinner around the top prospect’s Pro Day. But the combine is a chance to open the dialogue.

Laiatu Latu, edge, UCLA

Laiatu Latu is expected to be one of the top edge rushers selected in the draft. Many expect him to be a first-round pick, potentially a top-15 pick.

But not so long ago Latu was unsure if he would continue playing football. He originally played at Washington, where he saw playing time as a true freshman in 2019. He missed the entire 2020 season with a neck injury and the Washington medical staff advised him to medically retire from football in 2021.

Instead, Latu transferred to UCLA, where he posted back-to-back seasons with double-digit sacks in 2022 and 2023. He totaled 13 sacks last year with two forced fumbles and two interceptions.

Michael Penix Jr., QB, Washington

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. warms up before the NCAA National Championship against Michigan on Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston.

If the Bears elect to trade the first overall pick and stick with Justin Fields, they could be in play to draft a quarterback later in the draft. Penix, who led Washington to the national championship game, is a potential second-round pick who has seen a lot of college football.

With Penix, there are some medical concerns. He tore his ACL twice when he was playing at Indiana, before he transferred to Washington. He also dealt with several other injuries, including a shoulder injury. But the past two seasons at Washington have been injury-free. He played in 13 games in 2022 and 15 games last season.

T’Vondre Sweat, DT, Texas

The Bears could be in the mix for a defensive tackle and Texas’ T’Vondre Sweat figures to be one of the first ones taken in the 2024 draft. At 6-foot-4, 362 pounds, Sweat has a monster frame. He was a big reason why the Longhorns made the College Football Playoff.

Early in his career at Texas, Sweat might have rubbed some people the wrong way. He had a reputation for saying what he thought, even if the delivery didn’t always land. Steve Sarkisian even called him a “polarizing figure.” He also admitted to being the player caught laughing on the team bus after a brutal 2021 loss.

All signs point to Sweat growing much more mature now than he was back then, but those are things worth asking about if the Bears have an interest in him.

Zach Frazier, C, West Virginia

The Bears should be in the market for a center. Zach Frazier, a 6-foot-2, 310-pound junior from West Virginia, could fit what they’re looking for. He’s a potential day 2 draft pick. Frazier has three years of starting experience at center. Unfortunately, he broke his leg in the regular season finale in November.

That’s not likely to be an injury that tanks Frazier’s draft stock, but it’s definitely something any team would want to take a further look at.

Jonathon Brooks, RB, Texas

Texas running back Jonathon Brooks spent two years sitting the bench behind Bijan Robinson and current Bears running back Roschon Johnson. With Khalil Herbert entering the final year of his rookie contract, the Bears could be in the mix for another running back in the draft.

Brooks ran for 1,139 yards and 10 touchdowns before tearing his ACL in November. That’s certainly concerning for a running back and could impact his draft value. There’s no guarantee that he’ll be ready for training camp. Brooks could be a day 2 or day 3 pick.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.